C.F.W. Walther: Filching from sectarian worship resources equals “soul murder”

Thanks to a loyal BJS reader for finding this post on Lutheran Worship from the Intrepid Lutherans blog. They are a group of Wisconsin Synod Lutherans who, like the Brothers of John the Steadfast, are concerned about the intrusion of the Church Growth mentality into Lutheran orthodox churches.

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From Intrepid Lutherans:


In October of 1998, Professor Mark DeGarmeaux (Bethany Lutheran College, ELS) delivered a paper to the Evangelical Lutheran Confessional Forum of the ELS and WELS in Milwaukee, WI. The title of this paper was Sacramental Worship, Sacramental Preaching: Treasures of our Lutheran Church — a terrific little essay that explores and extols the unique liturgical treasure we Lutherans have inherited, concluding:

The Lutheran church has been truly blessed by God with a rich treasury of liturgy, hymnody, preaching, and praying. We are not a sect, but we understand and recognize ourselves as part of the Church catholic, the one Holy Christian and Apostolic Church. At the same time we realize that there is a difference between our theology and that of other denominations in many ways. Our treasures are in the understanding of sacramental and sacrificial elements in the Divine Service, in understanding the Word and Sacraments as powerful and efficacious means of grace, and in the proper distinction between Law and Gospel. And we look forward to the marriage feast of heaven when the Bride will be joined to Christ Himself and will enjoy the great sacramentum of the marriage feast of the Lamb.

This treasure has been kept and valued by generations of Lutheran confessors as a practice which carries a body of worshipers through the Divine Service, focusing them on Christ and His gifts, in a way that not only represents and reinforces our body of pure doctrine, but our distinction and separation from the heterodox. So how would a Lutheran, imbued with genuine confessional ardor, react to the notion of importing sectarian worship forms into Lutheran practice? Using C.F.W. Walther as a benchmark of confessional ardor, DeGarmeaux demonstrates the answer to this question by including as an Appendix to his essay the following letter from Walther, which was written to a man who asked about the use of Methodist worship resources in Lutheran churches:

Honored Sir,

This morning I received your worthy letter, written on the 19th of the month. In your letter you ask for my opinion on whether it is advisable to introduce the singing of Methodist songs in a Lutheran Sunday School. May what follows serve as a helpful reply to your questions:

No, this is not advisable, rather very incorrect and pernicious.

  1. Our church is so rich in hymns that you could justifiably state that if one were to introduce Methodist hymns in a Lutheran school this would be like carrying coals to Newcastle. The singing of such hymns would make the rich Lutheran Church into a beggar which is forced to beg from a miserable sect. Thirty or forty years ago a Lutheran preacher might well have been forgiven this. For at that time the Lutheran Church in our country was as poor as a beggar when it comes to song books for Lutheran children. A preacher scarcely knew where he might obtain such little hymn books. Now, however, since our church itself has everything it needs, it is unpardonable when a preacher of our church causes little ones to suffer the shame of eating a foreign bread.
  2. A preacher of our church also has the holy duty to give souls entrusted to his care pure spiritual food, indeed, the very best which he can possibly obtain. In Methodist songs there is much which is false, and which contains spiritual poison for the soul.Therefore, it is soul-murder to set before children such poisonous food. If the preacher claims, that he allows only “correct” hymns to be sung, this does not excuse him. For, first of all, the true Lutheran spirit is found in none of them; second, our hymns are more powerful, more substantive, and more prosaic; third, those hymns which deal with the Holy Sacraments are completely in error; fourth, when these little sectarian hymnbooks come into the hands of our children, they openly read and sing false hymns.
  3. A preacher who introduces Methodist hymns, let alone Methodist hymnals, raises the suspicion that he is no true Lutheran at heart, and that he believes one religion is as good as the other, and that he thus a unionistic-man, a mingler of religion and churches.
  4. Through the introduction of Methodist hymn singing he also makes those children entrusted to his care of unionistic sentiment, and he himself leads them to leave the Lutheran Church and join the Methodists.
  5. By the purchase of Methodist hymn books he subsidizes the false church and strengthens the Methodist fanatics in their horrible errors. For the Methodists will think, and quite correctly so, that if the Lutheran preachers did not regard our religion as good as, or indeed, even better than their own, they would not introduce Methodist hymn books in their Sunday schools, but rather would use Lutheran hymn books.
  6. By introducing Methodist hymn books, the entire Lutheran congregation is given great offense, and the members of the same are lead to think that Methodists, the Albright people, and all such people have a better faith than we do.

This may be a sufficient answer regarding this dismal matter. May God keep you in the true and genuine Lutheran faith, and help you not to be misled from the same, either to the right or to the left.

Your unfamiliar, yet known friend, in the Lord Jesus Christ,

C. F. W. Walther
St. Louis, Missouri
January 23, 1883

Notice that there are at least two factors involved in Walther’s blistering criticism of sectarian worship resources. First, the introduction of false teaching to the congregation (a) by the false content of the sectarian worship, (b) by the true teaching which is absent from it, and (c) by the manner in which the Methodist practice itself entices the congregation away from the Lutheran confession, is inexcusable and alone grounds for rejecting material from such sources. Second, the fellowship implications involved with endorsing such materials, and subsidizing their sources, not only impacts other Lutherans, who have every right to question the allegiances of those responsible for introducing such materials, but impacts the sectarians from whom we remain separate, who consequently have every right to suspect (based on the practice of using sectarian sources, itself!) that those Lutherans using their materials are, in fact, admitting deficiency in their own confession.

If we grant that Walther is a suitable benchmark of confessional ardor, how would we categorize those who are indifferent to the usage of sectarian and heterodox worship materials? According to Walther, above, it seems that a pastor who engages in practice which raises suspicions regarding his confession is himself guilty of offense against the whole congregation, not the observer who is led to suspicion on the basis of that pastor’s public practice. Is this an accurate assessment of the above statements? If so, is this consistent with more contemporary teaching regarding how one ought to interpret public practice? Based on what Walther seems to say above, should a Lutheran pastor so conduct himself in his public practice as to raise no suspicions regarding his fidelity to the Lutheran confession, or is such fidelity strictly a matter of internal motivations, making public practice not much of a big deal at all?


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